Layout

Layout refers to the arrangement of entities in two and three-dimensional spaces. For instance, on a page, bits of writing and images are given a specific place in an arrangement of entities; they are placed. In a room, pieces of furniture and people are placed. These placements are based on certain semiotic principles. For instance, the proximity of entities signifies a particular categorization or classification; one principle of layout is: ‘what is placed closely together belongs together’. Examples of this principle can be found in a two-page spread in a school textbook depicting different kinds of fruit and vegetables, or in a filing cabinet containing different types of folders. The positioning of entities relative to one another signifies their ‘information value’; another principle of layout is: ‘what is placed in the middle carries more weight than what is placed in the periphery’ (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006). Examples of this principle can be found in children’s drawings in which the person placed in the middle signifies the child’s perspective on their social relation with the people around them; or in buildings where the ‘main’, ‘grand’ entrance is placed in the middle, marking a social divide between those who use the main entrance and those who use a side entrance. Layout is often based on ‘templates’, which structure spatial arrangements and produce coherence across different spaces. For instance, some graphic designers use a grid to ensure coherence of layout across different pages or issues of a magazine, or across the different personal profiles of a social networking site. Builders use construction plans, molds and other technologies to ensure coherent layout across different rooms (eg. operating rooms, hotel rooms). These templates mark social relations, for instance, between developers and users of social networking sites or between architects and builders. In the light of examples such as these, some semioticians (eg Kress 2010) have concluded that layout can serve all three of Halliday’s metafunctions, and should therefore be treated as a ‘mode’: using layout, people can make ‘texts’ that are internally and externally coherent, representing meanings about social relations and the world of states, actions and events.

Editor: Jeff Bezemer
Other contributors: Theo van Leeuwen

Key References
Kress, G. (2010)
Multimodality
London: Routledge

Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (2006)
Reading Images.  The Grammar of Visual Design
London: Routledge

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